Are illegal file sharers law-breaking anarchists hell-bent on stealing music? Or are they just enthusiastic music fans celebrating an art form that should be freely available to everyone? Camden-based musician and producer Simon Goldsmith thinks there’s “a fine line between tyranny and freedom.”
Having just released his debut digital album he believes that the reason there’s so much illegal file sharing is because people love music so much: “And for me that’s encouraging.”
“When you’ve got big corporations suing grandmothers because they think they downloaded a track, it’s a situation where it’s a form of totalitarianism, where these corporate entities try and destroy as many people as they can. The art isn’t made by record companies, it’s made by artists, and the whole music industry is supposed to revolve around the artists making the art and the fans appreciating, buying and supporting it. Now these monolithic corporations are just using the artists as a cash cow and protecting their assets. For them it’s not about art, it’s about money.”
Following in the wave of bands like Radiohead who asked their fans to decide on the price they paid for their recently released album In Rainbows, downloading is big business, whether die-hard devotees pay for the tunes or not. The In Rainbows experiment received mixed responses; some crediting it as groundbreaking, others criticising it as a gimmick. Many hailed it a triumphant revolution that pioneered new territory; but success or scam, it certainly attracted plenty of media attention.
Radiohead isn’t sharing their sales figures from In Rainbows promotion, but Goldsmith believes a band of their stature can’t really lose: “For groups that are already as big and successful as Radiohead, they’re in a win-win situation. When you’re that famous, regardless of what happens, you’re going to have a significant number of people who are gonna pay a certain amount. A proportion will always pay.
“With them it’s obviously a publicity stunt, and I think it’s a viable way to go. If you’re an up-and-coming artist, and nobody knows you, you’re not going to make any money. Radiohead are already rich aren’t they? It’s like when Prince gave away his album in a Sunday paper for free.”
Numerous acts have jumped on the free downloads bandwagon, including The Charlatans, Beastie Boys and Coldplay, but does all of this charitable behaviour spell the end for the industry? Well, no. As far as the live music experience goes, it’s been proven that ticket prices for many A-list artists’ gigs have soared as the price of CDs has tumbled.
Goldsmith understands the importance of promotional tools in the record business. As one of the founding members of pop/rockers The Renegades he’s a regular on the North London live circuit, he heads his own record label EsGi, and his new album Echoes in Time has just been released via a Creative Commons license, which is now free to download.
Essentially a concept album comprising twelve tracks, Echoes in Time is an instrumental compilation that was born during the creation of a computer game soundtrack: “I was actually collaborating with a few people on the modding of a computer game. A mod is when you get a computer game and you re-code it and you add bits and you change graphics. It’s a space training, fighting game, and I agreed to do some of the soundtrack for that, and that’s where some of the discipline came from when I started the album. But the programming for that fell through, and so I decided to carry on in that ambient state of mind. I really enjoyed playing with all the soundscapes and so I just carried on and made my album out of it.”
Goldsmith welcomes donations for his efforts, but he knows that he’s not going to make up the lack of album sales by playing at Wembley Stadium – at least not at this stage. “For me if I release an album and it’s selling ok and I’m making a living, and then I find out that it’s being shared illegally, I’d be chuffed that people like it enough. They might not be able to afford it, not everyone’s rich, and that’s just life. If they wanna listen to it then let them, it has a promotional effect. There’ll end up being more people who know about you, so it balloons, in a positive way.
“The fact is that the music industry is making more money than it was before. But they don’t wanna tell you that because they wanna portray themselves as victims so they have an excuse to go after the little guy. I think these companies are giving the industry a bad name. They’re doing more damage than the file sharers are.”